Tuesday, July 09, 2024

πŸ“– 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Summer Doldrums 09/07/2024

Since coming back from Shetland last month, the weather has stayed largely the same, and our lackluster summer continues. Daytime temperatures have been consistently hovering between 13°C and 17°C, accompanied by frequent heavy downpours, which scarcely indicate that it's summer. As I write, another 'yellow warning' for rain has been announced for tomorrow, Wednesday 10th, which is particularly disheartening as an RSPB outing to Glen Girnock in the Cairngorms has now been cancelled.

Puffin at Longhaven.

Shortly after my return from Shetland, I was able to participate in an RSPB Local Group trip to Longhaven Cliffs on June 20th. The complete report is available on the group's website HERE, but the standout moments for me included a Short-eared Owl, Peregrine and the formations of Auks heading north, which seemed endless. The Fulmars are also a delight, seemingly taking joy in gliding along the cliff face. And naturally, spotting Puffins is always a treat. 


On the morning of July 3rd, David Leslie and I met at Murcar Golf Course and took a short walk to the sand dunes. I had already attempted twice to spot a White-winged Scoter, known to frequent the area with a small group of Velvet Scoters, but had been unsuccessful on both attempts. Our first stroke of misfortune was the emergence of the sun as we reached the dunes, which caused a glare on the sea that hindered our viewing. The second unfortunate event was the presence of hundreds of Common Scoters far offshore, in contrast to their previous proximity to Blackdog, a little further up the coast. As we began scanning the area, we observed numerous other species, including Guillemots, Razorbills, Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers and Red-throated Divers. Eventually, David spotted a small group of five scoters closer to the shore, one sporting a white patch on its wing, raising our hopes that these were the Velvet Scoters previously sighted with the White-winged Scoter. As the sun disappeared behind a cloud bank, we secured a clear view through the scope, confirming the identity of our target bird—a personal first for me in Scotland. While observing the scoters, we also noticed a significant number of Bottlenosed Dolphins feeding offshore. They frequently breached and came close to shore chasing fish, with scores of Gannets and Gulls partaking in the feeding frenzy—a genuine spectacle of nature. We celebrated with coffee and cake at the nearby Marks.

Bottlenose Dolphins
Currently, we find ourselves in what's often referred to as the summer doldrums—a period marked by a decline in birding opportunities in Aberdeenshire. This downturn is primarily due to the migration of many wading birds to their northern breeding territories, while our summer visitors are busy nurturing their offspring. Despite this, there are always surprises, such as the unexpected sighting of a Stone Curlew, a notable rarity in this area, in a recently ploughed field between Inverallochy and St. Combs on the evening of June 30th. Unfortunately, only a handful of birdwatchers were able to witness this extraordinary event, and the bird was not seen again the next day.

A Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly - Muir of Dinnet NNR

Typically, this season is ideal for observing butterflies and dragonflies, but the unfavourable weather has negatively impacted these pursuits, resulting in fewer opportunities to venture out and spot them. Nevertheless, I was able to avoid the rain showers during a recent trip to Muir of Dinnet NNR and was pleased to spot several Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies. There were a few other species on the wing and these included Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Small Heath. The only odanata I saw were a few Common Blue Damselflies.

Small Heath

At home, I'm quite concerned about the local Swifts nesting in the house opposite mine. Their numbers seem to be dwindling, with no signs of activity at the nest site, possibly due to the poor summer we're having. In contrast, the local Peregrines seem to be doing better, with an adult and a youngster often seen and heard over the house. Lastly, Dazza and I went to Girdleness on Sunday afternoon to observe a group of nine Orcas, including two bulls which spent the afternoon feeding near the lighthouse. We enjoyed some excellent views through the scope, but sadly, they never came close enough to shore.

BUBO Listing bubo.org
NEW Scottish Life-List Since Relocating Permanently to Aberdeenshire in October 2020

Friday, June 21, 2024

πŸ“– 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Shetland in Spring ~ June 13th - 18th 2024

Being a regular autumn visitor to Shetland I'd always wanted to visit in late spring and with a friend of mine Theo de Clermont working as a wildlife guide there until September it was a perfect opportunity. I arrived on the early morning Loganair flight from Aberdeen on Thursday, departing on my return flight on the afternoon of Tuesday 18th. I'm happy to report that both flights were on time! 

Loganair ATR from Aberdeen

"Although the title of this post is "Shetland in Spring," you'd be forgiven for thinking this was more like mid-February. With daytime temperatures struggling to rise into double figures, a biting northerly wind, and some hefty and prolonged rain showers, this was anything but spring." In fact, my annual autumn visit in the first week of October has consistently produced far better conditions. 

Esha Ness lighthouse ~ Situated on the Northmavine peninsula in the north-west of the mainland

While Theo worked for the first few days, I spent my time investigating the northern half of the mainland up as far as Esha Nesss in the northwest. However, news came through on the 15th of two Blyth's Reed Warblers down south at Virkie Pools, so I made the effort. I spent an hour in the company of a dozen others listening to the birds singing, which was a first for me, and then eventually I managed to photograph the bird as it finally presented itself. Another Shetland first. 

Blyth's Reed Warbler at Virkie

Blyth's Reed Warbler

In the following days, Theo and I spent most of our time on the mainland with an excursion to Fetlar on Sunday, the 15th. To get to Fetlar from Shetland’s mainland you need to drive north to Toft, take the ferry across Yell Sound to Ulsta and then drive across Yell; you then need to take the ferry across the Bluemull Sound to Hamars Ness in Fetlar. It's a pleasant crossing of around 40 minutes.

Distant photo of Whooper Swans cygnets, which I've never witnessed before.

Although we didn't come across many rare finds during my stay, after what has been a great spring here for rarities, I did get to see Swallows, Terns, Phalaropes, Skuas, as well as Whooper Swans and Red-throated Diver young, both new to me for Shetland. 

What follows is a pictorial of my visit. **ALL photos were taken from the roadside at a comfortable distance and although sometimes aware of a presence the birds were not disturbed in any way!

Red-necked Phalarope on Shetland Mainland from the car window!

Mating Red-necked Phalaropes - Shetland Mainland

Red-necked Phalarope - Fetlar

Great Skua (Bonxie) - Devasted by Avian Flu on Shetland these 'Pirates of the seas' can still be found in smaller numbers around the Islands.

Dark Phase Arctic Skua - Only comes to land to breed & can be aggressive towards intruders!

Seeing mating Arctic Skuas is such a rare treat - Unfortunately, the UK breeding population has declined by 70% between 2000 and 2019, particularly in north and west Scotland.

Female light phase Arctic Skua 

Ringed Plover - A regular breeding species on Shetland

Snipe - During my stay, many were seen and heard winnowing over the marshlands.

A smart-looking Golden Plover their plaintive flat whistle heard frequently over the moorlands.

Whimbrel - Only found breeding in Scotland. The good news is that the Shetland and Orkney breeding population has been slowly increasing.

Red Grouse - The Red Grouse is a common and widespread resident bird in Scotland. Its favoured habitat is typically open upland heather moors at an altitude of between 350-700m. It is found across most parts of Scotland, including Orkney, Shetland and most of the Outer Hebrides. 

Plenty of Northern Wheatear to be found around Shetland.

Red-breasted Merganser from the car window while having lunch at Hillswick.

Red-throated Diver with a couple of youngsters tucked under her wing.

Red-throated Diver - On our return journey we were lucky enough to see the two youngsters on the small loch and then watched as the birds headed back up the bank with surprising ease. 

A few more images of the visit...

Great Skua

Great Skua


Red-throated Diver


Despite the lack of finds it was a very enjoyable visit, with many highlights and I'm already looking forward to my annual visit in October. Many thanks to Theo for looking after me so well and introducing me to new areas of the Shetlands, he's also a very good cook! 

Monday, June 10, 2024

πŸ“– 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Aviemore Weekend Pt3 ~ June 9/10th 2024

 πŸ΄σ §σ ’󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Sunday 9th June 2024 🌦️ 8C ~ NE @ 18MPH ~ No surprise that the forecast for Sunday predicted cold and windy conditions, but, luckily, no rain. Once again, we met up to car-share, setting our sights on Findhorn Valley, initially to look for Wood Warbler. Craig knew of an area close to the valley's entrance where there had been a recent sighting of the species.

Wood Warbler in full song!

Upon arrival, the moment we stepped out of the car, the unique song of a Wood Warbler greeted us from the copse. The continuous singing allowed us to locate it swiftly, providing everyone with a clear view of the bird performing its song, also while here a Tree Pipit, plus a Cuckoo landed on the nearby phone wires and called, albeit briefly.

Common Sandpiper

As we progressed towards the valley's end, we observed Red Kite, Common Sandpipers, Red-legged Partridge, and Pheasants. The area around the public road's terminus was notably tranquil (and chilly!). Ascending the valley, we spotted Buzzards soaring over the ridges, and although a Peregrine was audible, it was sighted by only one member of our group. While no Wheatears or Ring Ouzels were observed, Meadow Pipits were seen in abundance, and the calls of Tree Pipits echoed through the woods.

Record shot of the White-tailed Eagle over the morlands.

Following a lunch break and reorganising our vehicles at Carrbridge, we set off for the final destination of our journey, Lochindorb. En route, we were treated to an unexpected spectacle when Dazza noticed a pair of raptors above the moorland. It was a Red Kite attempting to pilfer the prey of a massive White-tailed Eagle! We spent a considerable time witnessing this drama, observing the eagle as it landed in an attempt to dine undisturbed, only to take flight again as the persistent Red Kite made another approach. We were unable to determine the prey that was hanging from its talons.

A size comparison of Red Kite & White-tailed Eagle

Shortly after some of the group saw a Hen Harrier which flew across in front of them as we approached Lochindorb, and we finished the weekend trying to spot Black-throated Divers on the choppy water amongst the rain squalls. We weren’t successful this time, but it was not enough to put a damper on what was a fantastic weekend with a creditable 89 species.

 πŸ΄σ §σ ’󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Monday 10th June 2024 🌧️ 5C ~ NE @ 15MPH ~ While everyone else headed back east yesterday evening, Dazza and I stayed over on Sunday night with plans for a leisurely journey home today, pausing at a few places along the way. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans, resulting in a thoroughly dreich day. Despite the uncertainties, we resolved to venture up to Cairngorm, specifically aiming for the lower car park where some of our group had a brief but successful visit on Saturday evening, spotting Ring Ouzel and Wheatear.

A very wet Ring Ouzel at Cairngorm Lower Carpark

During a brief break in the heavy rain, we quickly toured the car park and nearby areas. To our delight, we spotted both Ring Ouzel and Wheatear before heading home.

A few of the Bee-eaters at Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire on Tuesday morning.

For Monday's subnote: While we were in Speyside, a report came through about 8 Bee-eaters spotted back in Aberdeenshire. Although my attempt failed to see them briefly on Monday evening after we returned, I am pleased to report that I managed to observe them early Tuesday morning! 

A few More Images of the Weekend...

Pied Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher


Red Deer

Some of the group at Findhorn Valley

White-tailed Eagle

Female Goldeneye

Saturday, June 08, 2024

πŸ“– 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Aviemore Weekend Pt2 ~ June 8th 2024

🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Saturday 8th June 2024 🌦️ 10C ~ NE @ 15MPH ~ The unseasonably cold temperatures resulted in a fresh layer of snow over the Cairngorms on Saturday morning. Additionally, the strong, chilly winds and regular rain showers suggested that the weekend weather might not be as favourable as initially anticipated. Nevertheless, these concerns were unwarranted, as the weekend turned out to be an exceptionally good one.

Our meeting commenced at Craigellachie NNR in Aviemore, a site historically known for sightings of Pied Flycatchers and Wood Warblers. Early attendees, including myself, were fortunate to observe a pair of Ospreys gliding above the treetops. Due to the large turnout, we opted to divide into two groups; one guided by Craig Gordon and myself, and the other by David Leslie and his father Rob. We planned to reconvene at the car park for coffee. 

One of four Spotted Flycatchers seen during our walk at Craigellachie NNR.

An enjoyable walk featured a fine selection of woodland species, notably Tree Pipit, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, and Willow Warbler. Unfortunately, we never managed any Wood Warblers, locally scarce here this year according to local birders but a good start nonetheless.

A smart-looking Common Redstart at Loch Mallachie.

Following our visit to Craigellachie, we continued in two groups car-sharing and set out to explore additional sites around Speyside. Our group started at Loch Mallachie, embarking on the Two Lochs Walk, a circular trail originating from the car park. While the Crested Tit was our primary bird of interest, the initial highlight was a male Redstart, which put on an impressive display, often singing and occasionally accompanied by a female. Other highlights included Tree Pipit, Crossbill and yes Crested Tit, with two sightings during our walk.

Our group just after lunch at Loch Mallachie

After lunch, we made our way to the Loch Garten visitor centre for a short visit. There, the group were delighted to observe an Osprey near its nest, along with Siskin, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, and Red Squirrel. A brief drive took us to the Roadside Pools at Boat of Garten, where the Slavonian Grebe was our main point of interest. Everyone enjoyed excellent scoped views, and we also spotted Wigeon, Little Grebe, Shoveler, Oystercatcher, and Redshank. In the nearby fields, young Mistle Thrushes and Hares were seen, with numerous Swifts and Hirundines gracefully skimming and catching flies.

Red Squirrel at Loch Garten

The day concluded at Loch Morlich, where once again, Swifts, House Martins, and Sand Martins were seen swooping low over the water. A notable observation was a Red-throated Diver in its striking summer plumage. 

Berlinda received her award for spotting the 1st Crested Tit.

The whole group at dinner in Aviemore